The Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies present:

Reconciling Status: China and the Dilemma of Intervention at the UN Security Council, 2000-2015

With Professor Courtney J. Fung, University of Hong Kong

Hosted by Dipali Mukhopadhyay, Assistant Professor International and Public Affairs, School of International and Public Affairs

Advanced registration required via Sundial here.


What explains China’s varied response at the UN Security Council in regards to intervention?  While China has cautiously accepted the need for UN Security Council-sanctioned intervention, China has repeatedly registered its discontent regarding regime change.  Foreign-imposed regime change — broadly defined as the sudden removal of a government —  occurs against a public discourse that identifies certain governments as being ripe for removal due to massive domestic human rights abuses, and is entered through either one of two policy pathways: coercive measures like the imposition of a no-fly zone or an International Criminal Court referral.  In recent memory, China acquiesced to a 2005 International Criminal Court referral for Sudan regarding the Darfur crisis; supported an International Criminal Court referral of the Libya case, and acquiesced to a no-fly zone during the 2011 Libya crisis, but halted any interventions into the Syria crisis, issuing repeated vetoes instead including against an International Criminal Court referral of the case in 2014.  All of these cases were part of the post-11 September regime change discourse, when legal and military tools were used to the effect of expelling governments because of their egregious domestic human rights record.  I argue that China’s search for status is an overlooked determinant in understanding the variance in China’s position on regime change at the UN Security Council.  Under certain conditions, China’s status-based reference groups are able to modify China’s preferences, getting China to permit action. China’s pursuit of status is in part driven by a consequentialist calculation to maximize China’s reputation as a group member, but it is also inherently social, with China driven by a logic of appropriateness and a desire to conform to an intersubjective standard of good behavior as a peer of its reference group. Though China’s focus on status is not a new proposition, I offer greater analytical purchase by unpacking the effects of China’s twin statuses as both a great power and as a developing state.  China is most concerned to ‘act appropriately’ when its reference groups remain cohesive; when multiple players congregate around the same policy position, and when its reference groups make an unresponsive China pay social costs.


Courtney J. Fung is an assistant professor of International Relations at the University of Hong Kong.  Her research concerns the effects of status on China’s actions at the UN Security Council during the period of its rise.  Prior positions include fellowships with the Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program, based at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies; the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and with the Global Peace Operations Program at the Center on International Cooperation.  Dr. Fung holds a PhD in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, and serves as a member of the Fletcher Board of Advisors.  Her publications include articles in Third World QuarterlyInternational Relations of the Asia-Pacific and International Peacekeeping.